When all you have is a hammer…

…everything looks like a nail. Even if it’s an ice cream sandwich.

According to Bloomberg Business Week, the failure of the Chevy Volt to win over consumers is due to the mismatch between the “green” image of the car and the decidedly non-green image of General Motors. The author of the article, who is a brand and marketing consultant with a long background at Clorox, and who bought his car in December 2010, says that

most of my “Green” friends are uninterested [in the Volt]. They’d rather own a Toyota Prius—or await for a plug-in from some other company. Why? Because the Volt is made by General Motors and they just can’t believe GM’s heart is in it.

The author goes on to explain that consumers want to buy a product from a company that shares their values:

Toyota has long supported fuel-efficient vehicles. If Toyota had launched the Volt, chances are it would already be a runaway success. But GM? It’s hard to associate the company that brought us the Hummer with a green image. How could GM executives possibly care about fuel efficiency? Or even get it right? Are they doing this only to look like good corporate citizens?

I suppose there’s some merit to this argument. It would seem weird if Payless Shoe Stores starting selling high-end performance running shoes. Except that ascribing the Volt’s struggles to GM’s non-green image is like saying the Titanic sank because the dining room menu didn’t include a porterhouse.

Consider the following:

  1. As of mid-July, there are only about 200 Volts available nationwide.
  2. There will only be about 10,000 units available for sale in the U.S. by the end of 2011.
  3. The Volt starts at $40,000. The Prius starts at $23,500. The Nissan Lean starts at $32,800.
  4. It takes 10-12 hours to recharge the car with a standard outlet. Good luck if you live in an apartment building that doesn’t have electrical outlets near the parking spaces.

Maybe it’s just me, but those seem to be far more salient facts than whether or not GM has a sufficiently green image. Who wants to pay twice as much for a car that they probably won’t get for months and that might not be easily rechargeable, when they can get a Prius or a Leaf?

This is what happens when your article is written by a consultant who specializes in branding.

Missing the boat like this isn’t a mortal sin when the product is an article in a weekly magazine. But it could be catastrophic when the product is a new corporate strategy. Or a succession plan. Or the roadmap for international expansion in China.

Everything we do is colored by our experiential filters. Those experiences shape our views and give us tools with which to address our organizational challenges. That’s human nature. And therefore it’s incumbent upon you to know what experiences and biases an employee, a writer, or a consultant brings to the table.

Because if the only tool on his belt is a hammer, you damn well better have a bunch of nails.


  1. Joseph Dager says:

    How true! I think the larger point that you raise is operating in a vacuum. The writer may not have had the same facts as you or chose to ignore them for the sake of the article. But the world is so diverse now that one person does not have the answer.

    Example: What would have the answer been had the two authors engaged in a dialogue before writing? You both may have arrived at the same conclusions but the posts certainly would ave been written entirely different.

    Just a thought that came to mind, thanks for generating it!

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